The Senate and House Appropriation Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government held hearings on the judiciary’s FY 2016 budget request on March 24 and 25 respectively. The Honorable Julia Gibbons, chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on the Budget, and Jim Duff, Director of the AO, testified on behalf of the judiciary and expressed appreciation for the continued financial support the subcommittees have provided.
In response to a question about the likely effects of receiving flat funding in FY 2016, Judge Gibbons said that the judiciary would have to downsize staff by 260 FTEs, defer paying panel attorneys for one month, eliminate $6.3 million from IT-related court security enhancements, and cut funding for court security personnel and equipment by $22 million.
In addition to explaining the judiciary’s request for a 3.9 percent increase in discretionary funds, Jim Duff urged renewal of the 10 temporary judgeship requests, and both subcommittees appeared supportive of the action, absent action by the Judiciary Committee to make them permanent, which is unlikely.
The witnesses also mentioned that the FY 2016 budget request for the General Services Administration included $181.5 million for a new courthouse in Nashville and $20 million for renovating existing courthouses to address serious security concerns. They said that the Nashville courthouse project has been contemplated for 20 years and that some courthouses are in dire need of security enhancements. By way of explanation, the judiciary, like most entities within the government, rent their buildings from the General Services Administration and are dependent on the GSA’s approval of and funding for the construction for new buildings and capital building improvements.
During both hearings, the judiciary’s ongoing cost containment efforts were praised. In addition to explaining and expressing optimism over ongoing efforts to reduce the judiciary’s space footprint by three percent by the end of FY 2018, Judge Gibbons and Mr. Duff discussed efforts to expand the use of shared administrative services among the various courts and offices and said that some new cost-saving measures will require changes to existing law. Specifically, they asked Congress to amend 18 USC §3602 to allow the sharing of probation officers among federal judicial districts.
On June 11, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government advanced their appropriations legislation by voice vote, and on June 17, the full committee reported an amended bill on a 30-20 party line vote. The House version of the legislation is $1.3 billion, or 6 percent, below fiscal 2015 enacted levels and $4.8 billion below the White House’s budget request. On July 9, the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill was introduced on the House Floor.
As of July 10, the Senate has yet to advance their version of the legislation.